9 tips for writing crime fiction

Crime fiction is one of readers’ favourite genres, and with so many great crime novels out there, writers always need to look for ways to up their game. If you’re new to writing in the genre, where should you start? Here are some tips to give you some ideas and things to think about when writing great crime fiction.

  • Set it in a distinctive place. Whether they’re set in a dark, brooding city or a pretty, small English village, most of the very best crime novels have distinctive sense of place.
  • Edit like crazy. This applies to all genres, but it is especially important in crime fiction where plots are often complicated and need to be right. Only keep what’s necessary for your story – everything else can go.
  • Learn how to plan. Whether you like extensive plans or prefer the minimalist approach, find out what works for you and go with it.
  • Give your characters depth – including the villains. Remember that all of your characters are the main characters in their own lives. This means that they shouldn’t be two-dimensional cardboard cut-out types that do things just because they’re convenient for the plot, but rather should be multi-faceted and the driving force of the plot.
  • Start and end with the characters. You might have an idea for a plot you want to explore, but don’t forget that it’s the characters that move it forward. They’re where the interest lies – in all fiction, not just crime fiction.
  • Watch the news, read the papers. Real life events can be a good source of ideas and inspiration for crime fiction. It’s not just the crime stories either; almost any news story could have the seed of an idea that could be useful for a crime novel.
  • Keep some information back. Mystery and suspense are vital for crime fiction, so don’t tell your readers everything at once.
  • Get your research right. You don’t want to overwhelm readers by regurgitating everything you’ve learned through your research, but equally you don’t want the story to end up implausible because you’ve not checked your facts properly. It’s important to get the balance right.
  • Let the readers do some work; they like to feel as though they’re one step ahead, and there’s no need to tell them absolutely everything when they’re perfectly capable of working things out for themselves. But surprise them too – part of the beauty of crime fiction is letting the readers think they’ve worked it all out, and then pulling the rug from under them.

What do you think?

Independent publishing – the inclusive option

One of the criticisms often levelled at independent publishing is that it lets anyone who fancies it publish a book – the idea being that this has a negative impact on the quality of work published. This has always seemed slightly strange to me. OK, not every self-published book is a work of dazzling brilliance, but then neither are all traditionally-published efforts. And independent publishing is much more inclusive than the traditional option, which is part of its beauty.

There are some benefits to the exclusivity of traditional publishing – there is a lot of expertise in the industry, (usually) an assurance of quality, and a certain standing for authors who go down that route. However, this model also leads to a lot of very good writers being overlooked, whereas in independent publishing, they’d have their chance to shine.

Simply put, there is room for everyone in independent publishing. This doesn’t just apply to writers. It also applies to readers, who are able to access a much wider range of books from a much wider range of authors as a result. And we can’t forget the other people who work in publishing – it also includes professional editors, designers, proofreaders, publishers and so on. Part of the criticism of independent publishing is that it turns the publishing process into a one-man-band affair – not so. There’s space for everyone, including those who have previously been involved with the traditional side of the business.

This is part of what makes it so great; as well as being inclusive, it is about bringing together people who have skill, expertise and passion, and using those things to create the best books and the best reading experience possible. The only thing it really cuts out is the gatekeeper of traditional publishing that says what can and can’t be published – instead, everything and everyone gets a chance.

The fact that anyone who wants to get involved with independent publishing can get involved is by no means a bad thing. It’s one of the industry’s strengths.

What do you think?

The most common self-publishing pitfalls

It isn’t only independent publishers who sometimes make mistakes. I’m sure we have all come across traditionally published books that have left a little something to be desired, that are full of typos or have been ‘blessed’ with a nightmare of a cover design. Yet the difference is that, in self-publishing, if there is something wrong with your book, it’s all on you.

With this in mind, it’s worth being aware of some of the most common self-publishing pitfalls and some of the things you can do to avoid them. Please feel free to add your own in the comments below.

  • Poor editing. This is one of the big ones, particularly for those who are new to self-publishing. It’s also relatively easy to fix. One option is to take more time to edit your book yourself. Another is to hire someone to edit it for you. Sounds obvious, but there are lots of books out there that would have benefitted from further editing.
  • Cover design disasters. The general rule of thumb here for self-publishers is that if you want a good cover design then hire someone to do it for you, unless you are a complete whizz at doing it yourself. If, like most of us, you aren’t sure where to even start, it’s probably not worth attempting yourself in the first place. If you do decide to go for the DIY approach, keep it simple so the scope for cover fails is as low as possible.
  • Boring blurb. You don’t have long to sell your book to a potential reader, so your blurb needs to be sharp, snappy and to the point. In short, make it interesting. And don’t make typos.
  • Formatting crises. It would be lovely if we didn’t have to worry about e-book formatting. Alas, this is not the case. How your manuscript looks on your word processor is not always how it will look in e-book form, so don’t forget to check it before you publish it.
  • Over-ambitious pricing. If you take a look at the prices of self-published books, many if not most of them will be priced at the lower end of the spectrum. This is because to price too high is often to put readers off and in a competitive market, no self-published author can afford to do that.
  • The extremes of marketing. One extreme is to do no marketing at all. The other is to go over the top with plugging your book at every opportunity. The former isn’t great as, obviously, if you don’t do any promotions, no one will find your book. The latter isn’t always great either as no one on your Twitter feed wants to be told to buy your book every five minutes from now until eternity. There is a need to strike a balance here.

What do you think are the biggest self-publishing pitfalls?

Self-published e-books continue market growth

Those of us who self-publish our own e-books are sure to be pleased with the recent news that our presence in the digital market continues to grow.

Self-published e-books are now thought to take up around 12% of the digital publishing market – and in some genres, the figure is even higher. For instance, in the crime category, the figure is thought to be as high as 20%.

This is good news for those of us who are passionate about independent publishing and work hard to make sure our books have just as much chance of success as those that are traditionally published.

The figures above come from research carried out by Bowker Market Research. The study also found that people who buy self-published books are much more likely to read every day than people who don’t. And, if you are wondering which demographic is most likely to buy a self-published e-book, it seems that the answer is women aged over 45, who account for more than a third of the total.

What do you think about these findings? You can read more about the story here.

DIY versus professional support in independent publishing

One of the many things you need to consider when self-publishing a book is whether you are going to go for the DIY approach, or get someone in to help. There are merits to both options, but ultimately it all comes down to quality. What is the best way to ensure that your book is as professional as it needs to be?

For many people, this will mean sourcing at least some outside help. After all, self-publishing a book is a lot of work and involves a lot of different processes – and it is unlikely that you will have a good understanding of all of them. Editing, for instance, is one area where it is generally worth hiring a professional to go over your work.

However, what should you do if you are just starting out in independent publishing and can’t afford much in the way of outside assistance? It’s important to get the most out of your available resources, so I’d suggest targeting your resources where they’ll do the most good. For example, you might be able to get your writing group or helpfully critical friend to assist with stuff like editing and proofreading, but decide to invest in a professional designer to do your book cover.

It’s also worth seeing if there is any way you can get some professional support without a financial commitment – for instance, you might be great at formatting while another author is savvy when it comes to cover design; swapping skills can be a good way of bringing the DIY and professional support options together.

Overall, both options have their merits, and you need to weigh up what will work best for you. Think about your own knowledge, the book you’re looking to publish, and the resources available (including time, skills and financial resources). Whatever you decide, with self-publishing now so popular and competitive, it’s vital that the novel you end up with is as good as it can possibly be.

What do you think? When it comes to self-publishing, do you do it yourself or make use of professional services?